It started one night on the patio of Big Star Bar in the Heights; over Lone Star and cigarettes, a handful of Houston music wags debated the shows they would pay top dollar to see from lartists, iving or dead. We argued the aspects of an At the Drive-In reformation, seeing Sam Cooke in 1963, watching Townes Van Zandt at old Old Quarter Acoustic Café downtown or sitting in while the complete classic Beach Boys line-up performs Pet Sounds in front of your eyes.
Granted, only one of those could ever realistically happen, but they all live large in the minds of rock nerds and roots fetishists who were either born too late or not hip enough to have been there to see those performers at their zenith. Rocks Off himself saw ATID once at the old Engine Room, but was sadly not traipsing this mortal coil for the rest of them.
You can collect all the vinyl and memorabilia you want, but nothing compares to actually sweating it out with maniacs like yourself in the middle of a crowd seated in a theater, singing along to every word and breathing their same air. That's why Rocks Off knows that we will never ever be the kind of Black Flag or Rolling Stones fan we wishes we could be.
Tattoos aren't the same as buying a stenciled shirt from the back of a van from Greg Ginn or waiting until 1 a.m. for Mick and Keith to decide it's showtime at Altamont. Yes, we would gladly risk being pummeled by Hell's Angels to see the Stones at that infamous '60s-ending show.
There exists a pantheon of artists and bands that few modern folks have ever seen, at least not in their prime. Sure you can gander at Paul McCartney, but that don't mean anything without the other three. The remaining Doors can tour all they want under a sad lawyer-dodging pseudonym, but the Lizard King (and his trouser snake) can't be replaced. And Led Zeppelin isn't Led Zeppelin without Bonham - John, not Jason.
Let's break this up by monetary units, with $10,000 being the highest level you would pay to see someone live. For some of you ten grand may be a drop in the bucket; if so, suspend reality for a few minutes and imagine what life is like for us street urchins. As we go along, the amounts will decrease.
Chime in the comments section if we left anyone out, which we most surely will. Let the Smiths moaning commence...
PLATINUM LEVEL ($10,000)
Robert Johnson: Seeing Robert Johnson play anywhere would be like sitting in the clouds above the Earth watching God mould mountain ranges and create oceans with his fingers. Rock and roll dripped from Johnson's guitar. If rock music was a baby, this would be like watching its parents go at it from a chair in the corner. Even $1,000 is sort of low-balling this moment.
Elvis Presley: If Johnson helped birth rock, Presley took off its training wheels and pushed it down the street. There's a story the New York Dolls' Johnny Thunders used to tell about seeing Presley at his early prime and spying a hole in his trademark dancing shoes. He started just poor white trash but proceeding to thrash the music with his touch. Imagine seeing that hole for yourself in some hall in Memphis or Little Rock when he would drag the floor.
The Beatles: You can throw your money into any era of Beatlemania. Would you want to watch the Quarrymen, the Hamburg shows, the Ed Sullivan nights or the '69 rooftop gig at Apple Studios? For our money, we would push the whole grand into sitting in on the final Abbey Road sessions.
Buddy Holly: Just like Presley, Holly was integral to the beginnings of rock. Some would even argue he was even more important, which as the years have gone has become a prevailing notion. Presley is sort of something that people take for granted at this point, but even in death Holly keeps unraveling more and more facets. Listen to the solo in "Peggy Sue." That's bedrock.
Bob Dylan: Yes, we know that you can see Dylan almost anytime of the year somewhere on his "Never-Ending Tour, but it's the start of that eternal tour we want to see. The baby-faced coffeehouse gigs in New York, the whirlwind London tours, going electric and divisive at the Newport Folk Festival. Even rehearsing with The Band for what became The Basement Tapes would be worth paying your way into.
GOLD CLUB ($5,000)
Jimi Hendrix: Rocks Off always talks about being in the room with a voice, be it Dylan, Neil, or even Morrissey. But we can admit that sitting in a room with Hendrix's guitar tone would be the kind of thing that would make you soil yourself. Even if you don't subscribe to psychedelic jamming or lysergic fits, just sit down and listen to "Red House" coat the walls.
Led Zeppelin: We would probably pay $500 just to sit next to John Bonham for a 20-minute drum solo. Whenever we meet people who saw Zeppelin in their prime, we feel a mix of frustration and reverence, depending on what era. The first five years? We more than likely hate you for being so awesome. Anytime after that, we will wash your car to hear stories from the show, provided you can recall anything.
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The Who: Here's another one that can be debated. Obviously the Who that tours now is not the Who, since the coolest two dudes in the band are dead now. The Live at Leeds gig would be righteous, as would the Woodstock set. But it would be pretty fun to risk our hearing and very life to be at the Smothers Brothers taping.
Joy Division: When we polled folks on the Rocks Off Twitter about who they wanted to see again, Joy Division came up numerous times. Personally we never got to see JD's descendant band, New Order, so that's where our loyalties lay. But Ian Curtis was a hellacious and transfixing performer, as you can see in numerous YouTube clips.
Stevie Ray Vaughan: Everyone get out your tomatoes and glass bottles, because Rocks Off wouldn't spend $500 to see SRV. We know about a million people who would, though, and that makes us feel good inside. We guess the trick would be to pick which SRV performance to attend. The last one ever with Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and big brother Jimmie Vaughan would be the perfect coda, but then again his shows at Austin's Continental Club are things of legend.